The Creativity Project: An Awesometastic Story Collection edited by Colby Sharp

Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Colby Sharp, co-founder of The Nerdy Book Club, embarked on a creativity project with 44 children’s book authors and illustrators, who were each invited to create two prompts.  Mr. Sharp then sent them two prompts from other artists and asked them to create something based on one of them.  This book is the result: a collection of poems, stories, artwork, and comics. Each one shows the prompt that was given (and who made it up), followed by the creative work it inspired.  The names will be familiar to any fan of children’s literature: Lemony Snicket, Jennifer Holm, Dan Santat, Victoria Jamieson, and many, many more. The final section, entitled “Prompts for You” includes intriguing text and pictures to inspire readers.  Includes brief biographies of all the contributors and an index. 288 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  This unusual book is fun to read (especially for us nerdy children’s book fans) and an inspiring look at the creative process.  There were some fun surprises (a deliciously creepy tale by Dav Pilkey comes to mind) and enough different genres to keep things interesting.  The prompts at the end will make you want to cast everything else in your life aside and start writing.

Cons:  It takes some persistence to plow through the whole book, and a few of the entries seemed like the writers kind of phoned it in.

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Ebb and Flow by Heather Smith

Published by Kids Can Press

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Summary:  Jett makes it clear from the beginning of this novel in verse that he’s had a “rotten bad year”.  After his father was imprisoned for killing a family while driving drunk, Jett’s life began to spiral downward.  He became friends with the class bully, and eventually learned that his friend has his own sad reasons for his bad behavior.  Jett’s spending the summer with his grandmother, who loves him unconditionally and uses her tough love to help him come to terms with some of the bad choices he’s made.  He and Grandma tell each other stories from their lives that help Jett to see he’s not the only one who’s made mistakes. Set on the northeast coast of Canada, Jett allows the beautiful beaches and sea help him to heal and move forward into what he hopes will be a better year for him.  232 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A beautiful collection of poems about learning to forgive and let go of the past.  Despite Jett’s troubled past, he is a likeable narrator, and his story moves back and forth in time, allowing the reader to get to know him while slowly learning of his difficult year.

Cons:  Although the ending is ultimately hopeful, there’s a lot of sadness in the story.

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A Round of Robins by Katie Hesterman, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

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Summary: A male and female robin build a nest; before long, there are four eggs inside. Twelve days later, the babies hatch. After a period of mostly sleeping and eating, the fledglings are ready to fly. They learn to find their own food and defend themselves, and before long, Mom and Dad have an empty nest. Not for long, though; the mother lays four more eggs, and twelve days later….40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros: The first part of a robin’s life cycle is described with playful rhymes and cute illustrations that reminded me of P. D. Eastman’s The Best Nest and Are You My Mother?

Cons: Some back matter would have helped explain some of the poems and made this more useful as an informational book.

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When Paul Met Artie: The Story of Simon and Garfunkel by G. Neri, illustrated by David Litchfield

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  This story of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel begins at their Central Park concert on September 19, 1981, then travels back in time 30 years to when the two boys were growing up in 1950’s Queens.  They became friends in a sixth-grade production of Alice in Wonderland, and were inspired by Elvis and other early rockers to try harmonizing, later adding Paul on guitar. At 15, they had their first hit record as Tom and Jerry (Simon and Garfunkel was deemed to Jewish-sounding for 1950’s America), but later recordings failed to catch on.  They met up again in the early 1960’s and released another record, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., another flop, except that one song, “The Sound of Silence”, slowly started climbing the charts.  The book ends on New Year’s Day, 1966, when that song reached number one. Includes an afterword, discography, bibliography, and list of musical connections.  48 pages; ages 10 and up.

Pros:  An absorbing history of one of the greatest duos of the rock and roll era.  Each page is a poem titled with one of Simon and Garfunkel’s songs, beginning with “My Little Town”, describing the suburb of Queens where the two grew up.  The illustrations are occasionally goofy, as the two boys were, but really capture the changing times from the 1950’s to the 1960’s. Any fan of their music will enjoy this history and undoubtedly learn a few things as well.

Cons:  Although this looks like an elementary school purchase, it would probably be more interesting to middle schoolers and older, and definitely requires some familiarity with Simon and Garfunkel’s music to be fully appreciated.

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Knockout by K. A. Holt

Published by Chronicle Books

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Summary:  In these sequel to House Arrest, Levi, the sickly baby from the first book, is now in 7th grade.  Timothy, his older brother and the protagonist of book one, is applying to medical school.  Levi’s health has improved, but he still has some limitations, and his mother and brother tend to be overprotective.  His divorced dad is more laid-back and encourages Levi to try a sport. When Levi has a few sessions at the boxing gym, he proves to be a natural.  He ends up lying to both parents in order to continue pursuing the sport. In addition, his tendencies to be the class clown are pushing away his best friend, Tam, who is spending a lot of time with a new girl.  A medical crisis forces Levi to be honest with his friends and family, and to look at what is most important to him and what he can do to move in a new direction. 288 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Fans of K. A. Holt’s other books, as well as Kwame Alexander’s Booked, The Crossover, and Rebound will enjoy this fast-paced sports-themed novel in verse.  

Cons:  It took me a little while to warm up to Levi and get engaged in his story.

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In the Past by David Elliott, illustrated by Matthew Trueman

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  Twenty poems are illustrated with oversized paintings of a variety of prehistoric creatures from the trilobite (“So many of you./So long ago./So much above you./Little below.”) to Tyrannosaurus Rex.  (You thought/(if you could think)/you’d live forever./The great T. rex/would never die!/But even kings/are vanquished/when stars fall/from the sky.”).  Early mammals like the smilodon (a.k.a. Saber-tooth tiger) and mammoth are included.  Each illustration is labeled with the geological period when that animal lived.  Back matter includes a note from the author and information about the animals that inspired the poems. 48 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  Dinosaur fans will love the giant (and appropriately ferocious) illustrations as well as the brief, funny poems.

Cons:  Additional scientific information on each page would have made some of the poems more understandable.

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Rebound by Kwame Alexander

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  It’s the summer of 1988, and Chuck Bell is reeling from the death of his father.  His mom decides to send him to his grandparents’ in Washington, D.C. to help them both heal.  Chuck is not excited, and his grandfather’s work ethic doesn’t improve his outlook.  But his cousin Roxie, a star basketball player, starts to get him interested in the game, and before long, he’s leaving his beloved comic books behind to try to be a superhero on the court (there are several comics about Chuck throughout the book).  There’s a hint of romance for Chuck in the letters and phone calls he gets from his friend Crystal back home.  When Chuck’s other friend, Skinny, comes to D.C. for a visit, Chuck finds himself in a difficult situation with a tough older crowd, and eventually ends up in jail for unknowingly possessing marijuana.  That scare puts him on a path that readers of The Crossover will know led to a career in basketball and a love for the game that he will pass down to his sons Josh and Jordan.  416 pages: grades 5-8.

Pros:  Fans of the 2014 Newbery medalist The Crossover will not be disappointed by this novel-in-verse prequel that tells the story of 12-year-old Chuck Bell.  There’s a little fast-forwarding at the end, so readers learn of Chuck’s legacy to his two sons, as well as what happened to some of the characters from 1988.

Cons:  Middle school or elementary?  Fifth graders will definitely enjoy this, but be aware there is the who whole arrested for possession scene towards the end of the book.

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